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Speaker: Veterans’ Experiences Highly Personal

Registered Nurse Connie Bergston told a gathering of veterans and CVTC staff Thursday of how a simple drive in the country with his family triggered a memory for one Iraq War veteran.

Bergston, the RN care coordinator with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minneapolis, related how the terrain around the road was barren and brown, and the road empty of traffic. When a small white car appeared in the distance, he warned his wife and children to watch for RPGs.

He wasn’t likely to encounter any rocket-propelled grenades on a country drive in the United States, but the scene, reminiscent of places he encountered in Iraq, acted as an unexpected trigger to an unpleasant memory.

Bergston told the story to illustrate how each veteran’s experience is highly personal, but with one thing they all have in common:

“A veteran. . . is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check to the United States of America, for an amount ‘up to and including my life,’” she said.

It is because of how much we all owe veterans that CVTC set aside September 13 as Honoring Our Veterans day, which included a series of events. Bergston’s program was called “Welcome Home” and focused on the experiences of veterans as they reintegrate into civilian society and the issues they can face.

Reintegration is something that can only be accomplished one veteran at a time, because the issues involved are so personal.

“Each veteran has had a unique experience,” she said. “We have to be very careful assuming things.”

However, there are a couple of things people should keep in mind when relating to veterans.

“It is never OK to ask a veteran if or when they had to take a life or if they ever witnessed a death,” Bergston said. “But they do appreciate a simple ‘thank you’ and a ‘welcome home.’”

That’s what CVTC’s Honoring Our Veterans Day was about. Eight-year U.S. Navy veteran Matthew Barngrove appreciated it. The liberal arts students who has plans to transfer to UW-Eau Claire was checking out the Veterans Benefits Fair in the commons, with particular interest in the Hero2Hired display.

H2H is a website that links companies interested in hiring veterans to the veterans who gained the necessary skills through their service work or other avenues. Veterans like Barngrove can fill out a resume’ at the site and send it to companies hiring, and employers can search a database of veterans with the skills they need.

“It’s a job site that veterans can come back to to find a job,” said Mike Hallquist, a veteran who was staffing the table. The H2H display was just one of several providing information to veterans.

“It’s a good idea,” said Barngrover. “A lot of times when they leave service, people don’t tell them everything, or they forget. It’s great to remind them of the services they can get.”

Later in the afternoon, groups gathered near the Field of Honor on the south side of Clairemont Avenue to hear Yvette Pino describe the Veterans Print Project she founded and view some of the works produced from it.

A veteran herself, Pino’s concept is to listen to veterans’ stories and express them in visual art through print projects. She said the idea came from contemplating the disconnect between veterans and non-veterans that can sometimes lead to awkward moments.

“I wanted to build a better dialogue to take pressure off both parties,” she said. “Linking a veteran with an artist is a stronger way of fostering dialogue.”

Pino introduced local Vietnam era U.S. Navy veteran Paul Blazel, who shared some of his story with the audience, as he shared it with Pino previously. People could then view the artwork Pino created from her visits with Blazel with appreciation of how his story is related through the visual medium.